Welcome to the first Secret Area post of 2019. Here’s something that was several months in the making. This was mostly due to procrastination. Naturally, I’m writing about a game I finished last year, two days short of a year after I had beaten it. And it’s a callback to a post I made last June. Let’s do this.
Last year, I had written a somewhat scathing review of the 2010 Medal of Honor reboot, which took the legacy of a long-standing WWII FPS franchise and basically ruined it by being a Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare copycat. You can check that post out here. At the end of that post, I had hinted towards a game that I had said was just as close to the original Medal of Honor games.
Okay, it’s a bit of a stretch, but it is a World War II FPS, and surprisingly a decent one at that.
Enemy Front was a shooter released in 2014 for various platforms, including PC. Released by CI Games, it was a fairly unknown budget shooter in an era where those kind of shooters were slowly disappearing due to the drought of retail games as well as the prevalence of Steam making it a newer (and cheaper!) haven for the cheap schlock of the past.
I had heard of it thanks to a certain YouTube personality. Ahoy – later a maker of wonderful flashy documentaries about Doom, Half-Life, the Amiga, and many others – had done a video chronicling the arsenal of Enemy Front. He had done similar videos before for Call of Duty and other franchises, and would later be revised to an all-purpose format with his Iconic Arms series of videos. I’m still waiting for the new season of Iconic Arms, just to see what games he uses as an example for the weapon he’s talking about.
Though, it wasn’t just a British YouTube personality talking about a budget polish-developed FPS’s weaponry that got me to snag Enemy Front. It was also dirt cheap on a Steam sale. All it takes is something to be under $5 and you’ve caught my interest almost immediately.
Broadcasting your war diaries doesn’t sound like a good idea to me.
Enough preamble. Let’s get to the meat and actually talk about Enemy Front proper. You play as American journalist Robert Hawkins as he reports the stories of a resistance front all around Europe. Hawkins’s voice sounds familiar to me. There’s no voice cast in the game itself, and IMDB only gives a brief unconfirmed list. I swear I heard him in that infamous Duty Calls game I also wrote about long ago, but there’s no proper credits for that one (or for Enemy Front).
Later meeting up with resistance fighters, Hawkins must stop the Nazi menace in various locales around Europe, including during the Warsaw Uprising. A fair share of the game takes place around that Polish conflict. It’s fitting, considering developer/publisher CI Games is based in Warsaw, Poland.
Human shields are a good way to be threatening. Until they realize you just grabbed some expendable low-ranking goon.
Hey folks. Sorry that my posting is still somewhat erratic at the moment. Things have been going on in my life, and for a good while I didn’t have anything interesting to write about. I’ve amassed so many junk items over the years that they’re all strewn about in my room, hoping one day they’ll be played and/or written about.
So instead of struggling to think about something, I’m gonna do some posts about some of the games I’ve beaten throughout 2018. Surprisingly it is a small list, as I had fallen into the trap of playing the same quick pick up and play games instead: Killing Floor 2, Payday 2, Asphalt 8: Airborne, and more recently, Quake Champions.
Despite having a massive backlog, I still did finish a few games throughout the year. This was originally gonna be a post with two reviews, but this particular review got so lengthy that I had to split it up.
So let’s talk about a failed reboot of an iconic franchise, shall we?
Mr. DudeMcLargebeard getting ready to shoot the evil people.
(Warning: Spoilers for the story of Medal of Honor 2010 and Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 lie within.)
Back around 2014, I had written (but oddly didn’t publish) a thing about Medal of Honor: Airborne, which I had replayed because a friend was streaming the game. It’s one of his personal favorites, and while I liked some elements of it like being able to drop anywhere on the in-game map, or even the creative weapon upgrade system, it just felt like a tired shooter going through the motions, and was going beyond the more historical angle of Medal of Honor, even having Nazi super soldiers wielding MG42s like it was nothing.
At the end I had written something to the effect “It’s not as amazing as Frontline or Allied Assault, but it’s probably better than Medal of Honor: Warfighter.” At the time, I hadn’t played the most recent Medal of Honor games, and 2018 felt like the time to tackle Medal of Honor 2010 – as I’m gonna call it from here on in, to distinguish it from the 1999 original – and I felt disappointed all the way through.
I finished this back in January, as the very first game I beat in 2018. This was not a good start to the year.
Realizing World War II games were on their way out after a near ten-year period of them constantly coming out, EA was in a bind. Medal of Honor was considered this prestigious franchise, and they didn’t know where to take it. Their solution was to see what their competition already did three years prior and follow suit: Go modern, and see if it stuck.
The problem was that this came out right after the extremely successful Modern Warfare 2, and was out the same year as Call of Duty: Black Ops – probably in my top three favorite Call of Duty games for various reasons – so already EA was climbing a very, very steep hill. With Medal of Honor 2010, EA didn’t get to the top, but instead slipped and started rolling down the hill, giving themselves bruises and broken bones along the way.
Gameplay wise, it’s a boilerplate roller coaster of a modern military shooter. Shoot the bad guys, reload, occasionally use a grenade launcher or call in airstrikes. Right click aims, Left click shoots. Occasionally you get medals for headshots or multikills, a holdover from Medal of Honor: Airborne that doesn’t make sense here. There’s even a level where you’re in a helicopter. Occasionally soldiers go “hooah” and speaking military lingo so frequently that it’s almost self-parody.
Even something like this has been done, and done better elsewhere.
It’s clear Danger Close was glancing at what Call of Duty 4 did years prior, and tried to copy it, but didn’t understand what made Call of Duty 4 such the blockbuster success.
The internet is a fascinating thing. It’s really easy to somehow stumble upon something you didn’t know existed, and then get enamored into giving it a try. That’s probably the best way for me to describe my experience with playing this game, which was the fourth game featured on Budget Shooter Theater. It’s probably the most obscure, as well.
Christopher Brookmyre’s Bedlam: The Game is a game based on a novel by Christopher Brookmyre (natch), a noted British author, whom sadly I was not aware of since I live in the United States.
I hadn’t really heard of this until I was watching Achievement Hunter-turned-Twitch streamer Ray “BrownMan” Narvaez, Jr. play this game, doing a blind run of this on Xbox One probably just to get achievements for it, something from his Achievement Hunter days that he still does. It seemed like an interesting little game, so I ended up looking for it on Steam and sure enough, there it was.
This was the third (and final) game I requested myself that I put on the “Decision Wheel,” just so I had a queue of games to play for this Budget Shooter Theater idea. The other two games were ones I had already played: The Ultimate Doom and the then-recent remaster of Turok: Dinosaur Hunter. Ultimate Doom needs no introduction. Turok was something I wanted to try to see if it held up or was strictly a nostalgia grab.
Bedlam, on the other hand, was strictly unknown to me until I watched that stream. I was going in mostly blind, and I wanted to see if it was as good as it looked when Ray played it. Turns out, it’s surprisingly better than I expected.
Ahh, the days when games looked sharper before ugly OpenGL texture filtering…
The story involves Heather Quinn, who signed up for a new virtual reality machine that simulates video games. Little did she know, she was sucked into the world of video games instead. With the help of various people she meets in the various game worlds, she must fight her way out of Bedlam.
The moment I started playing, I was thrown into a game world not unlike Quake II. Though it goes by a generic name – Starfire – it clearly has the style and look of that mid-’90s era of PC gaming, which I thought was neat. Through my travels, I went through a WWII FPS not unlike Medal of Honor, a futuristic open arena similar to Halo or PlanetSide, a medieval world similar to games like The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, even an area that resembled Pac-Man. This is Bedlam‘s world in a nutshell.
Yet, oddly, the game also name drops notable locations like Black Mesa from Half-Life, and even mentions Call of Duty, despite all the games depicted in-game being fictional. Presumably it’s okay to reference those games without having to pay legal fees, but this might all be references that are still in the book, which I haven’t read. Continue reading…
Budget Shooter Theater was not going well. After playing the amazing Doom, I tried to play through the dreadful PC version of James Bond 007: Nightfire. That did not go well. In the only time I ever bothered to, I rage-quitted and moved onto the next game. The Decision Wheel gave me Turok: Dinosaur Hunter.
As opposed to other games on that list — which include future entries like Serious Sam and and Christopher Brookmyre’s Bedlam, this was one chosen by me because I wanted to pad the Wheel with options until there were enough people requesting stuff that it wasn’t necessary. I also was itching to try this game for a while, so now felt like a good time as any.
The version I played is the recent remaster on Steam, co-developed and published by Nightdive Studios. Nightdive’s been hard at work re-releasing older DOS and Windows 95-era games and making them work in modern machines (or at least putting a DOSBox wrapper with it). Most notably is reviving the long-dormant System Shock franchise, and even trying their best to bring No One Lives Foreverback from the dead, among other notable revivals. Naturally it makes sense to bring back Turok.
Of course there would be a literal maze in a game like this…
The Turok game franchise is mostly known as a console series, where the main games were on Nintendo 64. However, the first Turok as well as its sequel Seeds of Evil did get PC releases, but rather than reverse engineer the game to work on modern machines like System Shock 2 or Aliens vs. Predator Classic 2000, the game’s assets — models, maps, sounds, and music — were ported to a proprietary engine known as the “KEX” engine. The engine is the same engine that handled the Doom 64 source port known as Doom 64 EX and would basically be the engine framework for Nightdive’s games going forward. As a result, this remaster is a mix of old and new: It’s like the console game, but not an exact port of the PC game. This might piss off some purists, but not me.
I have a certain fondness for Wolfenstein 3D. Back in the early 2000s when I was just a middling teenager, I was playing a bunch of cool level packs for Wolfenstein. Hell, the first online blog post I ever made was talking about an old Wolfenstein 3D mods website that I thought was cool. Yeah, it’s kinda plain compared to Doom and Quake, but damn it, I still had fun going through mazes killing things.
I’ve played practically every major Wolfenstein game barring the Muse Software prequels and the most recent The New Order. I was even a hardcore Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory player back in the day. But I didn’t know that there was a Wolfenstein game I missed.
They don’t make game covers like these anymore…
Mission Pack 2: Return to Danger and Mission Pack 3: Ultimate Challenge are unofficial third party expansions to Spear of Destiny, developed internally at FormGen and released in 1994. If you were craving more Wolfenstein and weren’t playing Doom for some reason, this was one of the many way to fulfill your digital nazi killing urges. That, combined with the Wolfenstein map generator mentioned on the box, and you now had seemingly endless opportunities to expand your Wolfenstein 3D experience.
Both episodes have the same story: Hitler recovered the Spear of Destiny from B.J. Blazkowicz, and it’s up to B.J. to fight Hitler’s Nazi regime once again and recover the Spear before he brings hell demons to Earth. It’s corny stuff, but to quote John Carmack from the book Masters of Doom, “Story in a game is like a story in a porn movie. It’s expected to be there, but it’s not that important.”
Well, I hope you like blue, because there’s a lot of it here.
So what’s different in these Mission Packs compared to vanilla Spear of Destiny? Surprisingly there are a bunch of changes in this game. New levels (natch), new sprites, new textures, even the enemies look and sound different. So already this is looking promising, right? Oh, if only.
I am not a fan of Kiss. I only know a few of their songs, mostly because they appeared in Rock Band. I’m aware of Gene Simmons’ mastery of marketing the band, complete with corny ’70s live-action specials, their shift to hair metal in the 80s, and of course, the infamous Kiss Kasket.
They have a couple good songs, at least. “Love Gun,” “I Was Made for Lovin’ You,” even “Strutter” is pretty solid. Kiss is a band I can appreciate and respect, but I don’t really care for them.
The late ’90s was the time for a Kiss comeback: The original line-up got back together and released an album in 1998 called Psycho Circus. With that title, and probably with a pinch of Gene Simmons’ marketing mastery, it eventually lead to a comic book series written by Spawn creator Todd MacFarlane, and of course, a video game. Prepare for the Nightmare Child.
This is one of four different covers. I guess they hoped people would buy all four in a way to recuperate the development cost?
Kiss Psycho Circus: The Nightmare Child is a video game adaption of the Psycho Circus comic book series by Image Comics and Todd MacFarlane Productions. The comic involved the band members becoming supernatural beings and saving the universe as part of the silly team moniker Four-Who-Are-One. The video game borrows elements from the comic, but has a wholly different story.
This was released on PC and Dreamcast in 2000, not long after games like Quake III Arena and Unreal Tournament were getting big. Though this being released on the Dreamcast and not the then-forthcoming PlayStation 2 is rather baffling, but maybe it’s for the best.
Instead of playing as members of Kiss, you play as members of a Kiss tribute band who get teleported to a special world ran by this gypsy named Madame Raven. She tells you about this big bad called “The Nightmare Child,” one that will destroy the world, and your band are the chosen ones to stop them.
I hope you love mystical dialog that barely makes any sense!
Separated by the Hall of Mirrors, each band member goes through each world as they grab each of the six pieces that form the respective Elder to stop the mythical Nightmare Child. Admittedly, the story is rather nonsensical even in-game, I had to resort to the manual to understand this bizarre-ass story.
I can say with authority that this story is so god damn ridiculous that it’s not worth looking further into. Then again, with this being co-opted by a band known for wearing silly outfits and the guy who created freakin’ Spawn, I’m not expecting System Shock 2 levels of storytelling here.
Here’s a silly little easter egg: The statue is holding the logo of developer Third Law Interactive.
This game was developed by Third Law Interactive, founded by one of the original members of the Daikatana development team during its first year or so when it was under the Quake engine, so already we’re off to a shaky start. They didn’t do a whole lot of notable stuff outside of this game, my brief internet search found out they worked on an Aliens vs. Predator 2 expansion and added stuff to the Game of the Year edition of No One Lives Forever.
You may have noticed that’s all Monolith/Lithtech stuff. Unsurprisingly, this game runs on Lithtech 1.5, which is an absolute pain in the ass to get working on modern devices without needing an elder god and maybe dgVoodoo2. Worst off, that this is one of those games that has the pesky disc check, and no patch or update is out to turn it off. A shame, really.
But let’s get to the meat of Kiss Psycho Circus. In the game, you choose one of the four supernatural characters and go through a set of levels, getting weapons, jumping on platforms, activating switches and killing enemies in your wake. Through the levels, you’re looking for the items make your character part of the Elder, like boots, shoulder pads, and finally the iconic Kiss masks.
This guy’s ready to pull the trigger on his gun. His Love Gun, that is.
One thing I’ve been trying to do this year is to tackle my long, burgeoning backlog. I’m limiting this to mostly current generation stuff like the 360, PS3, PC and Wii. But only because I wasn’t really up to digging out my Xbox to play Brothers in Arms: Road to Hill 30 and or play through the gauntlet that is Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 4. If I tried to finish everything I owned, I’d be left with a task that would be impossible to finish in my lifetime.
I’ve been making a slight dent at that backlog in recent months, tackling Borderlands and all its DLC, Saints Row: The Third (which is good timing considering Saints Row IV hits later this year), F.E.A.R. 2: Project Origin and Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception. Lots of shootybangs, basically.
BADASS SPACE MARINE COVER
So it makes sense my most recent completion was this little-known budget FPS called Chaser. A first-person shooter that was developed by Slovakian developer Cauldron and published by JoWood Productions in 2004. I had heard of the game in the past thanks to owning a PC Gamer demo disc that had a demo of the game’s multiplayer. While the demo wasn’t amazing by any stretch, it did seem like an interesting shooter that I might play someday.
Fast forward to 2012, when I see the game on a Steam daily deal for $2.50, which got reduced even further to $1.24. I have a soft spot for bargains, and when a game hits that “$2 or less” threshold, it’s an instant impulse purchase. Then it sat on my Steam backlog until very recently, when I had decided to try it shortly after beating Redneck Rampage, wanting an “old-school” FPS fix of a different kind.
Douglas Quaid John Chaser in an unusual predicament.
You play as John Chaser, an amnesiac stuck on a spaceship being hunted down, with no memories of what happened prior. You eventually make it to Earth and become acquaintances with members of “The Family,” as you try to do missions to find out who you are and what happened. Eventually you find the truth, befriend a few people along the way, and find out you were doing a mission on Mars. So you get your ass to Mars, go to the Hilton and flash the Brubaker ID at the desk.
Obligatory sewer level screenshot.
Okay, I know a Total Recall reference sounds dumb here, but Cauldron clearly was looking at the Schwarzenegger sci-fi classic for inspiration: From the amnesiac main character, to befriending people who would later be enemies, being chased through a spaceport, even having to go through murky Mars caves to find the truth. This is the closest we’ll get to a “Total Recall: The Video Game” that isn’t that terrible NES game from many years ago.
Let’s be honest here, shooting a bunch of dudes is better than punching similar-looking monsters and dodging glory holes.
The game is not perfect, though. Being made by a game studio where English is not their primary language, there’s that weird case of “eurojank” to Chaser‘s design. Voice acting is a very mixed bag, leading to awkward line deliveries and unusual word usage. Subtitles don’t always match what’s spoken. Jumping physics seemed a bit off, where I was more likely to miss a platform than land on it. There are many points where it wasn’t clear where I needed to go next, which lead me to walking around a lot and frequently backtracking, among other problems that are common to unpolished shooters.
Cauldron’s CloakNT Engine makes for large, expansive levels. Impressive for a game released in 2004, however it makes later stages like the last few levels drag on considerably.
Chaser is not just a rough unpolished game, it’s also very difficult. On Normal difficulty, it didn’t take much for the bad guys to whittle my full health and armor down to zero pretty quick. Enemies occasionally drop medkits and armor, but I ended up losing that as quickly as I got it. This even applies to fall damage — later stages have you dropping down on pipes, taking off small bits of your health as you descend, making it pretty easy to miss a jump and easily crater, forcing you to quick save repeatedly.
This is cruel irony.
Lately I’ve been trying to avoid playing games on harder difficulties, but Chaser was incredibly difficult to play on Normal, leaving me to go through the remaining 2/3s of the game on Easy just to get through it. Even on Easy difficulty, some of the later stages still kicked my ass, with enemies having grenade launchers that one shot me even with near-full health and armor. The quick save key became my best friend.
Even the game’s ending is especially bleak. I won’t spoil it, but I was honestly expecting a much different outcome, and playing a shooter with a downer ending, especially the long journey it took me to get there, is disappointing. I would preferred a choice, like in Singularity, another game I played fairly recently.
That isn’t to say this game is bad per se, it’s just difficult because it was clearly made in a different mindset than most first-person shooters today. Chaser hearkens back to the late ’90s-early 2000s era of first-person shooter design: reflexes, speed, exploration, backtracking, rationing items, and quick saving often to make progress. The average player today would likely have a very difficult time playing through Chaser if they’re used to the Call of Duty style of game play.
Despite that challenge, I enjoyed the varied level design — from space stations, to cities, to the Russian tundra, even the redness of Mars looked pretty neat. The soundtrack was good, reminding of MOD tracker music that was popular in Unreal Tournament and Deus Ex. There’s a bit of charm to Chaser that I had a soft spot for, despite it’s ridiculous length and punishing difficulty.
It’s on Steam at an affordable price of $5, though it does go on sale occasionally. It’s worth checking out if you want some early 2000s eurojank in your life. Just remember that it’s gonna kick your ass, but stick with it. Despite that eurojank, it’s not a bad shooter. I’ve played worse shooters out there. Much worse.
Some screenshots taken from the Steam store page and Mobygames.
(Update 8/20/2019: Updated the post with a few changes here and there.)